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Festival Express
Festival Express
Actors: Janis Joplin, The Grateful Dead, The Band, Rick Danko, Levon Helm
Directors: Bob Smeaton, Frank Cvitanovich
Genres: Indie & Art House, Music Video & Concerts
R     2004     1hr 30min

Festival Express is a rousing record of a little-known, but monumental, moment in rock n' roll history, starring such music legends as Janis Joplin, The Band, and the Grateful Dead. Set in 1970, Festival Express was a mult...  more »


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Movie Details

Actors: Janis Joplin, The Grateful Dead, The Band, Rick Danko, Levon Helm
Directors: Bob Smeaton, Frank Cvitanovich
Creators: Ann Carli, Garth Douglas, Gavin Poolman, John D. Trapman, Nick Faulks, Nick O'Hagan
Genres: Indie & Art House, Music Video & Concerts
Sub-Genres: Indie & Art House, Pop, Rock & Roll, Grateful Dead, Classic Rock, DTS
Studio: New Line Home Video
Format: DVD - Color,Widescreen - Closed-captioned,Subtitled
DVD Release Date: 11/02/2004
Release Year: 2004
Run Time: 1hr 30min
Screens: Color,Widescreen
Number of Discs: 2
SwapaDVD Credits: 2
Total Copies: 0
Members Wishing: 2
MPAA Rating: R (Restricted)
Languages: English
Subtitles: English, Spanish

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Member Movie Reviews

Deborah R. from ALEXANDRIA, VA
Reviewed on 5/30/2009...
like they will never be again...what a trip

Movie Reviews

DVD Extras
simply | ole U S of A | 10/08/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)

"With more than 50 additional minutes of exclusive performance footage not seen in the theatrical version of the film, the Festival Express DVD set features the following "bonus" set list:
Grateful Dead "Hard to Handle"
Grateful Dead "Easy Wind"
Janis Joplin "Move Over"
Janis Joplin "Kozmic Blues"
Buddy Guy "Hoochie Coochie Man"
Mashmakhan "As Years Go By"
Eric Anderson "Thirsty Boots"
Ian & Sylvia "Tears of Rage"
Tom Rush "Child's Song"
Seatrain "Thirteen Questions"
The DVD set also offers 25 minutes of additional interviews"
Joseph A. Kengor | Youngstown, OH USA | 10/02/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)

"Folks, I can only sure brings tears to my eyes to see
these people again, the ones that are gone. Richard Manuel singing "I shall be released", Rick Danko jamming with Jerry Garcia "no more cane", and especially seeing Pigpen blowing harp
during "new speedway boogie", and the shots of Janis singing two
great tunes "cry to me" and "tell mama". I guess I'm getting nostalgic in my old age, but these musicians meant a lot to me when I was young, providing the soundtrack to a lot of my youthful escapades. The Band played the best concert I ever saw
in 1970 in Pittsburgh, just a few months after this film was shot, so they are captured here in practically the same spirit.
I went to see the Flying Burrito Brothers once in 1971, but couldn't get into the bar because my girlfriend was underage, but they are shown here as a four piece singing "lazy days", so I finally get to see them perform.
This is a wonderful film capturing a wonderful cross country music express. The only complaint - woefully short for my taste- I could take a few more hours of this."
Wasn't That A Trip?
Mox! | Aurora, Colorado United States | 11/06/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)

"In the summer of 1970, some of the most famous names in contemporary music appeared at a series of Canadian concerts. What set these shows apart from Woodstock, Monterey, etc. was the fact that the musicians, promoters and crew travelled between cities and venues in a CN commuter train. This hairy, heady trip is documented in "Festival Express".

Interspersed with a veritable cornucopia of performances (more on these in a moment) are latter-day interviews with some of the participants explaining why the film footage remained unseen and little-discussed for over three decades. Although certainly interesting and enlightening, I think most viewers will be drawn towards the music. And oh, what music it is. Highlights include...

The Grateful Dead's haunting "New Speedway Boogie", which perfectly captured the widespread anger, fear and confusion in the wake of the Altamont tragedy. Despite Robert Hunter's disturbing lyrics, most concertgoers can be seen grooving joyously to the spectacle of Jerry Garcia crooning into the microphone and Ron "Pigpen" McKernan making sweet love to his harmonica.

The Buddy Guy Blues Band blasting through "Money". I had heard this chestnut performed many times in the past and, previously, always thought of it as so-so. However, I have never heard it sound so desperate, so vital, as it does here. Wandering amongst the audience, picking anguished notes from his guitar, Buddy moans, screams and wails, as brother Phil (on rhythm guitar) and the rest of the band chug along behind him. Buddy and Phil can also be seen taking part in some of the impromptu jams on the train. And that brings me to...

"Ain't No More Cane on the Brazos" - in the hands of a rowdy bunch of (ahem) "enhanced" musicians, this mournful Leadbelly song becomes almost celebratory. The Band's Rick Danko and blues-mama extraordinaire Janis Joplin belt it out while Jerry and Dead guitarist Bob Weir strum along. Plopped between them, John "Marmaduke" Dawson (from New Riders of the Purple Sage) tries not to burst out laughing while over in the corner, folk legends Ian and Sylvia Tyson sway beatifically. At the piece's coda, Jerry declares his love for Janis. Although uproariously funny, this scene is also sad to watch now for reasons which are probably obvious.

Speaking of The Band... try as I might, I cannot choose just one of their performances to mention here. All three are fantastic (although as a Band fan, I suppose I am somewhat biased). They bring the house down on the Little Richard number "Slippin' and Slidin'", show appropriate gravitas (pardon the pun) to "The Weight" and really deliver the goods on "I Shall Be Released", with Richard Manuel's heartbreaking vocals taking center-stage.

"Lazy Day" - this country-rock ditty from the (post-Gram Parsons) Flying Burrito Brothers floats along enjoyably, enhanced by suitably hedonistic lyrics and Pete Kleinow's steel guitar. And, if nothing else, the Brothers prove once and for all that white boys can have Afros too.

"Coming Home Baby", by homegrown rockers Mashmakhan, is a throbbing, pulsing musical maelstrom, enhanced by the no-nonsense rhythm section of Jerry Mercer and Brian Edwards, Rayburn Blake's slashing guitar and Pierre Senecal's groovy organ (and jaw-dropping flute solo).

Not to be outdone, "C.C. Rider" proves why Ian and Sylvia were (and still are) two of the most respected names in Canadian folk-rock. Backed by their band, the Great Speckled Bird (including redneck drum legend N.D. Smart and steel-guitar wizard Buddy Cage) as well as representatives from some of the aforementioned groups, the cowboy-librarian duo treat the Ma Rainey saga with the zest and verve it truly deserves.

And what review would truly be complete without a proper mention of Janis? The movie's final performance, "Tell Mama", explains in no uncertain terms why this lady was such an icon of her era. Backed by the knowing notes of the Full-Tilt Boogie Band, Ms. J. pleads, harangues, coaxes and cajoles her "young cat" into her arms while delivering one of the stream-of-consciousness raps which are now the stuff of legend.

I could go on forever about these segments, as well as the great bonus performances also included on the DVD (Tom Rush! Eric Andersen! Seatrain! Oh wow!). However, I would like to conclude this review by mentioning some of the things that are **not** included, for the benefit of potential customers.

Several of the acts who took part in the Festival concerts do not appear in the film at all. During the restoration and editing of "Festival Express", Alvin Lee asked that scenes of his band, Ten Years After, not be included as he felt that they were sub-par (a viewpoint shared, in fact, by the filmmakers). Complete footage of Traffic and Mountain was, sadly, nowhere to be found despite much searching. And the movie concludes with two songs for which only the audio portion was locatable - Janis warbling an early version of "Me and Bobby McGee" and the New Riders' reverent rendition of the bluegrass classic "Jordan". (For some reason, this latter song, also attempted by Jerry G. and Sylvia T. mid-way through the picture, is referred to in the credits as "Better Take Jesus' Hand").

Also, for you Delaney and Bonnie Bramlett fans, these two and their "Friends" are prominently credited but do not perform a complete song at any point during "Festival Express". Their version of "Goin' Down the Road Feelin' Bad" (assisted by Leslie West from Mountain) early in the movie is all but inaudible due to the interviews which have been overlaid onto it. However, there is quite a bit of other footage of Delaney (backing Ian and Sylvia), Bonnie (enjoying herself on the train) and Kenny Gradney (griping about various things) so I suppose it's not a total loss.

Finally, I should point out that some of music historian David Dalton's reminiscences are just plain wrong. The most notable error is his statement that Jimi Hendrix had died by the time the concert series began (in fact, Jimi did not leave us until September 18th, 1970, well after the last show took place). His other blunders will be obvious to the seasoned viewer so I will leave it there.

Thanks to promoters Ken Walker, Thor Eaton, Dave Williams and everyone in the cast and crew who made "Festival Express" such an impressive, amazing experience.

And to Janis, Pigpen, Richard, Jerry and Rick, God bless you.